Thursday, August 28, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Rhoades)

‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ Is Latter-Day Woody Allen

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My wife refuses to see Woody Allen movies because she disapproves of his marriage to his Korean stepdaughter. She doesn’t buy that “the heart wants what it wants” excuse when hurtful to others.

Me, being from the live-and-let-live school of life, I don’t care how Allan Stewart Konigsberg screws up his personal relationships. I like his films. Well, his funny ones.

Being good at compartmentalization, I can easily separate an actor from his movie roles, and a director’s works from how he conducts his life.

I suspect I’m on morally mushy ground here, but there you have it. I couldn’t wait to see “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” – the new Woody Allen romantic comedy that opens today at the Tropic Cinema.

Rather than the name of one strange character, the film’s title refers to two sisters – Vicky (played by Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (this one’s Scarlett Johansson) – who go on a holiday to Barcelona.

The two girls are at very different stages in their lives.

“Vicky has a plan ahead of her,” says Hall. “She’s getting married, she’s getting her Master’s, she’s moving out of the city, and she’s going to have babies. She feels that everything is falling into place as expected.”

However, her sister’s life is at loose ends. “Cristina is kind of a wandering lost soul,” says Johansson. “She’s aimless and doesn’t really know what she wants. She’s exploring her youth with no responsibility and coasting wherever the road takes her.”

Woody Allen specifically had the city of Barcelona in mind as the film’s setting. “When I began writing the script, I wasn’t thinking of anything other than creating a story that had Barcelona as a character,” he claims. “It’s a city full of visual beauty and the sensibility of the city is quite romantic. A story like this could only happen in a place like Paris or Barcelona.”
There, the girls become enamored with a painter (a lighthearted role for new Oscar-winner Javier Bardem), unmindful that his hotheaded ex-wife (Bardem’s real-life girlfriend Penélope Cruz) isn’t quite willing to let him go.

Therein lies the crux of the plot. It’s about life choices.

Although Allen wrote and directed this messy little love poem, he doesn’t star in it, seemingly fazing himself out of his acting career as he gets older. That’s perhaps a wise box-office choice, for at age 72 he’d be nearly 50 years older than his two leading ladies. (Note: He’s 35 years older than his wife Soon-Yi, an age spread he apparently considers more appropriate for a fixation with younger women.)

Gee, we should’ve seen it coming. His movies are often semi-autobiographical. For example, in “Manhattan” he was an older guy lusting after a teenaged Mariel Hemingway – granddaughter of Key West’s most famous writer.

These days Woody seems to be fond of Scarlett Johansson, this being his third movie starring the young actress.

Allen’s filmography includes more than 40 movies in all. He considers “Match Point,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” and “Stardust Memories” to be his best efforts.

However, most people designate “Annie Hall” as his masterpiece. American Film Institute picked it as one of the 100 Best Movies – and the fourth best comedy – ever made. It won him two of his three Academy Awards, the other coming for his family-at-odds film “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

Despite his attempts at making serious films inspired by the works of Ingmar Berman, fans liked the neurotic comedies best. He lamented that fact in the Fellini-esque “Stardust Memories,” where people keep telling his character, a successful filmmaker, that they appreciate his work, “especially the early, funny ones.”

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” isn’t one of the early, funny ones. More a light romantic comedy in keeping with “Scoop” or “Anything Else.”

When my friend Julie married a Hollywood insider, Woody Allen’s executive producer Charles Joffe showed up at the pre-wedding party. I got a chance to chat with him. He told me that Woody had planned to come, but still suffered from bouts of agoraphobia, despite thirty years of three-times-a-week psychoanalysis.

“Why doesn’t he make funny movies anymore?” I incautiously asked. Just idle cocktail-party conversation.

“Don’t let him hear you say that,” his producer warned. “He thinks his films are funny.”
I guess it’s a somewhat subjective concept. Just like an appropriate age differences between couples. [from Solares Hill]

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